by Jay Prasuhn
Chris Ybarra is all of 26 years old, lives in San Diego’s North County, and works as one of Wattie Ink.’s full-time artists. It's often said that youth is wasted on the young, but Ybarra bucks that cliché. He started in this role two years ago, at 24, his first job in the apparel industry. His workspace at the Wattie Ink. offices is like all the artists': spartan, clean, the iMac where his creations come to life front and center. Pensive and thoughtful, but prone to wry humor, Ybarra started like many young artists: creating graffiti, printing small runs of his own brand of t-shirts and selling them to his friends. “I would do my own tags and pieces, and take them to the local print shop. Really, I was just learning to draw.” He received his degree from the Laguna College of Art and Design, focusing on the traditional media of painting, with some anatomy and portraiture on the side.
And his kits—most recently, he conceptualized and created the kit Andy Potts rocks this season—reflect that education. He builds a design not for the sake of an image laid flat, but how it will look and accentuate the human form in three dimensions.
“I would say that my approach to making representational art and understanding form and lighting has influenced my designs,” Ybarra says. “It definitely helps me in choosing colors, understanding layout, logos and values. Really, it’s the same type of planning you’d see in classical painting.
The process is actually quite fascinating. “Transitioning from painting and applying what I’d learned was a process,” he says. “It's more technical here, dealing with multiple panels and designs that wrap around the body. You have a pattern that transitions from the forearm, for example, all the way to the triceps. And there’s the way the logo is worn. Wattie has a particular look and while we want to keep all our designs universally the same, we don’t want to repeat too much, just keep our styles consistent. There was a learning curve, but I was for sure able to apply what I knew from school."
I ask him to cite the example on his monitor at the moment: some early rendering of a new camo design, as an application of lights, colors and shadows to make the pattern flattering on anyone. “Camo,” I start. “That must be impossible to plan and build around, right?”
“No—you can do it,” he says. “It’s about planning and laying out a bunch of similar colors, without becoming blurry or busy. It’s possible, and it requires as much work as anything else.”
There are, invariably, things that don’t make their way to the cutting room floor. Which is, in his mind, the way things should go. It means he and his team are taking chances.
“I still document the things that don’t work,” Ybarra says. “I do like things that are interestingly attempted. I respect that effort. If it fails, it fails.”
He adds with a laugh “I’m just glad my formal studies help me spot and prevent stuff like that going into production.” Ybarra’s designs will keep showing up both in custom and in-line designs like that coming camo kit this season. “I’ve got a few more coming up,” he says. “plus some pro kits, which are always fun because you can experiment more.”